The Collected Letters, Volume 2


TC TO WILLIAM GRAHAM; 24 April 1823; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18230424-TC-WG-01; CL 2:339-343.


3 Moray Street, 24th April, 1823

My dear Friend,

I received your last letter by the Pennypost, Hope not having set out at the day appointed; and I need not say with what sorrow I learned that the indisposition, mentioned in your former letter, and which I imagined to be of the most trifling character, still lingers about you in so disagreeable a form. David1 came the day before yesterday; and his statement has not diminished my anxieties. Few know by a blacker experience what it is to have an unquiet mind in a sick body, to have cares within us that require all the resources of our philosophy, and nothing coming from without but the various shapes of pain, which five diseased senses convey to us; few know all this better than my unhappy self, and truly does it grieve me to think that you should have to go thro' a course of such bitter instruction also. It is hard, very hard: but what can be done to help it? Nothing, except that universal and often ineffectual operation, the summoning up of our soul to meet its stern trial with steadfastness, the determination not to yield however it may go, the study to be busy for the present, and to look upon the future with hope. I think you have acted very wisely in the mean time, leaving the foul vapours of Glasgow for the inspiring breezes of your Fatherland. I have no doubt you already begin to perceive the advantages of the change: as the summer breaks up, you will grow sound again as ever, and forget this dreary episode of your history, or remember it only to draw profit from it. I know nothing in the world like ill health for teaching a man contentment: one learns then for the first time, how nearly all human lots are equal, what an immense proportion of our happiness depends on blessings which all share in indifferently, and how little, how very little can be made of any artificial acquisition when one of these universal and oft unnoticed gifts of Providence to all his children is withdrawn. I often firmly believe I could be comfortable in any conceivable condition, so I had but health of body in it. There is some truth in what the poet says about affliction—that “like a loathsome toad ugly and venomous it wears a precious jewel in its head.”2 It is often needful to tame our wayward wiles; rightly suffered, it does not come in vain.

You see, my friend, I am preaching a little on this topic—which I have too often had occasion to meditate; but I look forward to something far better for you than the effect of my tedious harangues. A month or two will set you on your legs again; and you will look back upon my sermons with a grateful indifference, as on all things well meant, but now superfluous. The only other advice that I shall press upon you is one that I reckon worth all the rest; it is to be no moment idle, to bestir yourself however you may feel. I rejoice to learn your purpose of attacking the Moles with might and main: leave not a remnant of the colony, destroy them root and branch. Then ride over to Grange at frequent intervals to enjoy the society of your true and most estimable friends, go to Middlebie, to Mainhill, to Annan, never rest within doors when you can get without. I shall find you quite well, when I come down in August; you will have to give me all the history of your medical experience, as well as of your campaign against the non-commissioned corps of Sappers and Miners, in which I wish you infinitely more success than I do your rascally brother-officer Hilt in his attack upon the patriots of Spain. See that you prove yourself a proper General!3

You have already discovered that I am more than usually dull to-night. In fact we have had the most amazing day of it you ever saw. “Mother Wilkie”4 is going to leave town on Whitsunday, and the trustees made an onslaught upon her quite by surprise, bringing down a red flag with the motto “Sale of household furniture,” and a bevy of auctioneers and clerks and other miscellaneous raggabrish, the totality of whom affected a lodgment in the Unmighty Mother's dwelling, and drove the peaceable inhabitants to utter rout. Jack got no dinner, except what he dived for in some of your and my old steak-shops; I lay mostly perdue at Buller's; and the “Mother” went about wringing her hands, and bewailing the loss of her plenishing, smoking tobacco at frequent times, and ever and anon calling to “Maister Moartin” the evil genius of all this tumult, to suspend his operations. At length evening came and the hurly-burly ended. Mother Wilkie had transported (or as she called it, supported) our goods into the front room, the little place you once had; and here we are at length in quietness—but in such a scene of dust and devastation as eye hath seldom seen. It is like a cane-plantation after a tornado. We are as patient as possible, and naturally as stupid. You must wait, if you want amusement or even sense.

I was unwilling to quit Wilkie's, being destined in a week or two to quit town altogether. If you have yet made out your visit to Main-hill, they will have told you that I am bound for the Highlands during summer: the Bullers have taken a house near Dunkeld, and we all set out about the middle of May. I need not tell you whether I rejoice at this; Kinnaird House is said to be a beautiful spot, and to me clear skies and green fields are in themselves a treasure. Town life is growing every day more odious to me; my passion for the country sometimes almost rises to the height of a lover's for his mistress. More than once in winter, driven to despair by the unsupportable abominations which human animals when crowded together in cities occasion to each other, I was determined within a hair's breadth to cut and run, to rush forth into the open land whatever might betide; I thought it better to starve in quietness and wholesome air, than to be killed by inches with noises and gases and odours, such as it hath not, save in Edinburgh, entered into the heart of man to conceive. Thank heaven! all that is over now; I am healthier than I was last year; and about to realize my favourite project of rustication, by which I hope to get completely cured. I am going to take plenty of books with me, to read and write, and work perfect wonders. You are likely to be trysted5 with sundry sheets of my lucubrations; I warn you in time.

The reason I have let you go so long on this occasion, is that I was too busy for writing any letters at all. There is a Life of Schiller which I undertook to provide (by Irving's instigation) for the London Magazine; it has swelled on my hands till it is almost fit for a book by itself. The first part is to go off on Monday; the second and third, I design to employ my spare time in till August. You will see the whole in due season: for if the Cockneys boggle in the least about it, I will make the jolly Bibliopolists Oliver & Boyd print it in a separate form, with “notes and illustrations”—and there is a Book for you at once!— Irving's “Argument in four sermons”6 is not yet come to hand, and he is one of the worst of correspondents. I hear that he flourishes beyond precedent in London: little Robertson told me of a man who had twice seen him “sweep down the candlesticks”—a proof at least that he feels at home in the pulpit, for this is a frank enough way of doucing the glim [putting out the candle] either in Kirk or chamber. He is the bravest of fellows, notwithstanding; and likes us all well.— There were about a thousand things remaining to be said, but my time is done, and my paper too. You must write to me before I leave town—merely to let me know how you are: I will send your reply from the Grampains. My best respects to the Laird and Lady of Grange:7 I will see them in summer. Remember me kindly to your good sister and nurse: may she soon recover you!

I am always yours, / Th. Carlyle